New Study: Solar Module Owners Sitting On A Pile Of Hazardous Lead And Cadmium

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Dubbed as a clean source of energy, new research findings show that home and property owners producing “clean, CO2-neutral” solar electricity with solar modules may in fact soon find themselves sitting on a pile of hazardous waste once the module lifetime expires.

In many countries, it is illegal to simply discard hazardous materials into the household garbage, and so many solar energy module operators may find themselves eventually paying high fees for hazardous waste disposal when it comes time to discard the modules at the end of their lifetimes. Meanwhile in third world countries the hazardous modules will likely end up being discarded onto the landscape.

“Serious environmental consequences”

According to the online Welt here, a new study commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Economics dubbed: “Release of Hazardous Material from Photovoltaic Modules,” found “serious environmental consequences” from solar modules. Formerly it was claimed that solar modules posed no real danger to the environment.

Today that appears to have been wishful thinking.

Toxic components get washed out by rain

Welt reports that researchers in Stuttgart checked if toxic substances could be transported from the modules to the environment by water. Welt writes:

Contrary to earlier assumptions, the result shows that hazardous material such as lead or carcinogenic cadmium from broken pieces of solar modules could be completely washed out by rain water of a period of several months.”

The latest findings are another major blow to an industry that has been reeling from high costs, inefficiency, cheap imports and declining overall popularity. Now the industry is turning out to be a real polluter.

Welt writes that it will be necessary to recycle 100% of all modules but that it will be impossible to ensure that no modules wind up in regular household refuse.

Poor countries victims again

Though 100% recycling may be almost achievable in rich, industrial countries, Welt cites the experts, who say there is the high likelihood the modules will simply end up littering the landscape in poor countries.

Poor countries, often located in sunny equatorial regions where solar energy is more effective, face the potential of being blanketed by vast swaths of hazardous material as used, worn-out modules get thrown out.

11,000 tons of lead, 800 tons of cadmium

The researchers say that currently there are about 3700 square kilometers of solar modules installed globally and estimate that, as of 2016, the modules contained 11,000 tons of lead and 800 tons of cadmium, reports Welt, citing the study.

Welt adds that the EU banned the use of toxic heavy metals and solder by the electrical industry, but the solar industry was exempted on the behest of the solar lobby. The solar industry needs to be included in the ban as well, the experts say, so that the global spread of heavy toxic metals can be curbed.

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31 responses to “New Study: Solar Module Owners Sitting On A Pile Of Hazardous Lead And Cadmium”

  1. Bitter&twisted

    Well I never.
    The Solar “industry” lobbied for and got an exemption to allow them to use dangerous heavy metals in their “product” that no one else was granted.
    Another green scam powered by the exchange of stuffed plain brown envelopes and subsidies.
    And again it is the poor and vulnerable who will suffer most.

    1. AndyG55

      Just like the wind industry is exempt from fines for bird mincing and avian wild-life destruction.

      I wonder how many bat colonies have become extinct because of these avian slashers. !!

      They wouldn’t be on that list of 30,000 un-named extinct species, though, now would they. 😉

      1. tom0mason

        Also see https://youtu.be/t8hKSry09F0
        for why weather dependent generation fails the modern world.

    2. SebastianH

      The exemption is only for thin-film solar cells which use Cadmiumtellurid. The majority of solar cells are poly-crystalline and mono-crystalline silicium. Also, coal power plants are blowing magnitudes more Cadmium into the air … just saying.

      Lead is only used in special solar cells named Perowski-cells.

      You really should be more skeptical when the “veteran journalist” Daniel Wetzel writes something for “Die Welt”. He is obviously a disinformer with an agenda …

      1. AndyG55

        Coal produce MANY MAGNITUDES more electricity than solar.

        Nearly all trace cadmium in coal is removed before or after combustion. Very little actual emission.

        JUST SAYING !

        Solar cells.. cadmium DIRECT to the environment.

        1. SebastianH

          Per kWh AndyG55, don’t be that slow guy all the time …

          1. AndyG55

            Cadmium leaching in LOCAL environment from solar panels. How many old leaching solar panels around you seb.!! (we know you are nowhere near wind turbines.. NIMBY))

            Combustion products of coal well filtered.

            Fly ash, which may contain some cadmium, is used to build national infrastructure, locking it up forever.

            Don’t be that DUMB guy, seb

            OPPS… WAY too late

          2. SebastianH

            Cadmium leaching in LOCAL environment from solar panels. How many old leaching solar panels around you seb.!! (we know you are nowhere near wind turbines.. NIMBY))

            Ignorance is bliss? How man old solar cells are Cadmium-Telluride solar cells? Take an educated guess!

            Combustion products of coal well filtered.

            Sure … “clean coal”, right 😉

            https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es071763q

            Don’t be that DUMB guy, seb

            Don’t parrot me or whomever you get your information from …

          3. AndyG55

            “Don’t parrot me ”

            But you are NOTHING but a parrot, seb

            And you are the very last person to tell me what not to do, putz!

            DON’T BE THAT DUMB, seb

            Except YOU CAN’T HELP IT !

  2. AndyG55

    Minerals required to make solar cells:-

    Arsenic (gallium-arsenide semiconductor)

    Bauxite (aluminium). (Required huge amounts of concentrated electricity to refine)

    Boron Minerals (semiconductor chips):

    Cadmium (solar cells, semiconductor chips)

    Coal (For steel manufacture and electricity for processing minerals)

    Copper (wiring; thin film solar cells):

    Gallium (solar cells, semiconductor chips).

    Indium (solar cells, semiconductor chips).

    Iron ore (steel) (Requires coal (as coke) and large amounts concentrated electricity to process)

    Molybdenum (photovoltaic cells).

    Phosphate rock (phosphorous).

    Selenium (solar cells).

    Silica (solar cells).

    Tellurium (solar cells).

    Titanium dioxide (solar panels).

    Lead (for batteries, if used.)

    Note: all these minerals require substantial amounts of electricity to process them…. NOT from solar or wind.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Also note –

    The manufacture of solar panels produces, as by-products, hexafluoroethane, nitrogen trifluoride, and sulphur hexafluoride.

    Relative to the CO2 green house gas effect, C2F6, NF3, and SF6 have green house gas effects 12,000, 17,000, and 23,000 times more powerful.

    Further, C2F6 survives for 10,000 years when introduced into the atmosphere. By comparison, the atmospheric residency of CO2 is said to be only a few decades at the most.

    The big question is do the manufacturers vent these gaseous chemical by-products to the atmosphere or fully recapture them? Maybe in Germany (oh sorry, are there any solar manufactures left in Germany ?) and the USA.. But does anyone really think China will be capturing all of these chemicals?!

  3. Greg61

    Unfortunately the liberal governments who have created the incentives to install these abominations will also make everyone else pay for the disposal. The owners who reaped the benefits at society’s expense will get off free once again.

  4. Pochas

    Power to the people, dont’cha know? But rational behavior nowhere in sight.

  5. tom0mason

    Also remember those solar cell take a lot of energy to produce and little if any of that electrical energy came from the grid ruining nonrenewable ‘renewable’ sources.

    For instance —

    Arsenic (in indium arsenide, gallium arsenide, and aluminium gallium arsenide): High energy refinement and energy intensive semiconductor manufacturing process.

    NOTE Indium arsenide, gallium arsenide, and aluminium gallium arsenide are all toxic, see ‘Toxicity of indium arsenide, gallium arsenide, and aluminium gallium arsenide’ by AkiyoTanaka https://doi.org/10.1016/j.taap.2003.10.019

    Aluminum (from Bauxite): Requires huge amounts of concentrated electricity to refine.

    Boron Minerals: High energy for refinement and energy intensive semiconductor manufacturing process.
    In biology, borates have low toxicity in mammals (similar to table salt), but are more toxic to arthropods and are used as insecticides.

    Cadmium: High energy for refinement, and energy intensive semiconductor manufacturing process.
    NOTE: Cadmium is very toxic see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1578573/ and others.

    Coal (For steel manufacture and electricity for processing minerals)
    Note: Toxicity of vented materials are easily controlled by filtration of exhaust gases. Coal is a useful source of CO2 to the environment.

    Copper (wiring; thin film solar cells): Requires high energy for refinement from the ore.

    Gallium (in gallium-arsenide): Very high energy for refinement, and energy intensive semiconductor manufacturing process. Usually manufactured via additional steps in the manufacture of aluminum.
    Toxic as a halide compound (as used in semiconductor industry).

    Indium (solar cells,semiconductor chips): High energy for refinement, and energy intensive semiconductor manufacturing process. A byproduct of zinc refinement.
    Toxic as a halide compound (as used in semiconductor industry).

    Iron ore (for steel): Requires coal (as coke) and large amounts concentrated electricity to process.

    Molybdenum (photovoltaic cells): High energy for refinement, and energy intensive semiconductor manufacturing process.
    The toxicity of molybdenum compounds appears to be relatively low in humans.

    Phosphate rock (phosphorous; semiconductor dopant): High energy for refinement, and energy intensive semiconductor manufacturing process.

    Selenium: High energy for refinement, and energy intensive semiconductor manufacturing process.
    The toxicity of Selenium compounds appears to be relatively low in humans.

    Silica (solar cells): Very, very high energy for refinement to semiconductor use, and energy intensive semiconductor manufacturing process.

    Tellurium (solar cells): High energy refinement and energy intensive semiconductor manufacturing process. Mildly toxic, however some studies show that it may interfere with reproductive health http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/r/reproductive_toxicity_tellurium/intro.htm .

    Titanium dioxide (solar panels): High energy refinement and manufacturing process.

    Lead: High energy for refinement and energy intensive manufacturing process.
    Lead is TOXIC see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3485653/ and many others.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Also of note —
    The manufacture of solar panels produces byproducts such as hexafluoroethane, nitrogen trifluoride, and sulfur hexafluoride.
    Relative to the CO2 ‘green house gas effect’, C2F6, NF3, and SF6 have estimated ‘green house gas effects’ or the order of 12,000, 17,000, and 23,000 times more respectively. (Info from http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/738098 and wikipedia)

    Further, C2F6 is said to survives for 10,000 years when introduced into the atmosphere. By comparison, the atmospheric residency of CO2 is said to be only a few decades at the most.

    It is known that many oriental solar cell manufacturers vent these gaseous chemical byproducts to the atmosphere, do they all?
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    INTERESTING FACTS

    Also of interest is that consumer solar cells only convert around 20%-27% (maximum) of all solar energy irradiating them into electricity. The best efficiency of the dual-junction cell was measured at 29.8%. (https://www.nrel.gov/news/features/2016/21635.html) Efficiency drops when the cell temperature rises, and as the cells age. Keeping solar cells at an evenly cool temperature enhances their longevity.

    Like many electronic assemblies and semiconductor devices, solar cells suffer from unwanted metallic crystals growing between contacts on the semiconductor. These crystal ‘whiskers’ build up often leading to premature death of the device due to ‘shorting-out’ to adjacent contacts. Although tin is the main culprit as explained here https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Whisker_%28metallurgy%29 most metals used in electronic manufacture suffer from this problem to some degree.

    1. SebastianH

      Funny, you and AndyG55 found the same website to get your info from 😉

      many oriental solar cell manufacturers

      What is that supposed to mean?

      1. AndyG55

        Poor seb is UNAWARE that most solar cells are now made in China.

        seb, the UNAWARE.

        It is noted that you have ZERO argument against the list of ingredients. EMPTY as always.

        1. tom0mason

          Just to clarify then —

          Oriental vs Occidental – What’s the difference?
          https://wikidiff.com/oriental/occidental

  6. tom0mason

    Comment in spam bin again?

    1. tom0mason

      And again???

  7. tom0mason

    Comment number 2 about ‘Comment in spam bin again?’ in spam bin again?????

  8. Steve

    It would seem that SebH thinks that so long as it doesn’t get any warmer it does not matter what we throw into the ground.

  9. Kurt in Switzerland

    You forgot about the use of C (Carbon) to reduce SiO2 (in the form of Quartz) to Si.

    The Carbon (in the form of fossil fuels) is generally the source of the heat, but the Carbon MUST be present for the reaction itself.

    Solar Panel manufacture is VERY Carbon-intensive.

    1. tom0mason

      Kurt in Switzerland,
      Many thanks for your update, I’ll amend my note on it.

  10. Kurt in Switzerland

    http://www.simcoa.com.au/production-process.html

    Study the C in this process (as a key material for the chemistry as well as for generating the required heat).

    This is one of the steps in manufacturing Solar PV cells.

  11. John F. Hultquist

    The plan of choice will be to unhook them from the roof, toss them in the driveway, run over them with an auto, and bundle the remains for the trash. There is precedent.

    In the Great State of Washington on the USA’s left coast a program was established (via a fee at purchase) to recycle the pig-tail (CFC) lights. The fee is called an Environmental Handling Charge or “EHC”.
    The EPA issued guidelines, summarized here: Link

    I haven’t talked to anyone that has so disposed of such things. They go in the trash. Of, course I always do the right thing. I also wonder where that fee money goes.

  12. tom0mason

    Failure mode of solar arrays is reported here http://www.imeko.org/publications/tc10-2014/IMEKO-TC10-2014-036.pdf

    1. AndyG55
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  14. DMA

    These installations and wind farms should have to bond the reclamation required at end of project life just like coal mines. The bond amount should be determined by state environmental quality departments just like coal mines.

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